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‘Super Mario Maker’ is a Brilliant Entry in the Super Mario Series

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Chances are, you’ve heard of Super Mario Maker by now, and you all have a pretty good understanding of what the game is all about. When handing over the keys to their magical Kingdom, Nintendo wisely took its time to make sure it got everything right – and they did. They also did an incredible job in marketing this game, going so far as to bringing back the Nintendo World Championship and launching a ludicrous marketing campaign that includes everything from a series of creative commercials, a new WiiU bundle, and an assortment of videos to give us an idea of what we could expect. Super Mario Maker is the fun, brilliant level editor Nintendo promised us last year, and so much more.

As the name might suggest, the game allows players to make their own Super Mario Bros. levels—specifically, levels that fit within the aesthetics of four games in the series: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and the recent New Super Mario Bros. series. Players can lay out every brick, tile, power-up, enemy, and warp pipe, and design levels in the style of each of the four Mario generations represented. Of course, everything still has to play by the rules of the Mario universe and nearly every component from the four franchise entries are present in Mario Maker’s creation mode. If you’ve seen it in one of those games, chances are you can add it to your creation via a user-friendly interface. If you want to make an enemy fly – or if you want to hide power-ups in bricks, you can. All you need to do is drag and drop these features from the editor’s menu. It’s as simple as that. There are of course rules and limitations. In other words, don’t expect to be able to add weapons, enemies or vehicles not found in the Super Mario universe — and don’t expect to be able to create a turn-based Mario RPG. And even within each generation of Mario gameplay, you are still restricted from using features found in other games: For example, while New Super Mario Bros. levels do support techniques like ground-pounds and wall-jumps, the original 8-bit look doesn’t allow for these specific features.

Perhaps my favourite component is the Mystery Mushroom which allows Mario to take the form of characters from other games such as Splatoon, Animal Crossing, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Sonic, and many more. There are an incredible 100 unique costumes and most are easily unlockable with amiibo. The new Anniversary 8-bit Mario amiibo will support super-sized characters while other existing figures from Nintendo’s intensely popular series of figurines are also largely supported. Scanning a toy brings the icon onto the screen and replaces Mario with a different little sprite. While in costume, you can push up on the D-pad to see an animation and hear sound effects relating to that very character. But don’t worry, not every single costume is amiibo-based and you don’t need amiibo to unlock each.

A wise move on the part of Nintendo (although somewhat controversial) was the decision to not give players every tool right away. When you first load the game, Super Mario Maker only gives players the basics and requires players to spend some time building with what they have before unlocking more features. The more you play, the more you unlock. The materials are divided into themes, encouraging aspiring designers to focus on, say, building a castle before trying their hand at underwater levels or ghost houses. Set packages of level design elements are unlocked with time although the specific timing of the unlocks seems a bit random; some take only minutes while others take hours to trigger a new delivery. Regardless, the decision to speed up the process is far more welcoming than the original nine-day wait Nintendo had initially planned. Over the course of a few days, you’ll be able to play with the game’s entire suite of level-making tools which call back to decades of Super Mario platformers. The novelty of these unlimited combinations makes for quite the spectacle, which is why Super Mario Maker is timeless. So as long as there is a console that is capable of playing the game, along with online support, players can continue to discover, play and create levels forever.

Super Mario Maker is not perfect, but pretty darn close

Creating levels can be a daunting task but what helps Super Mario Maker stand apart from other games, like LittleBigPlanet, is how easy it really is. Super Mario Maker keeps things simple by removing complicated elements like logic programming and features an incredibly accessible level construction kit that the whole family can easily enjoy. The tools themselves hide an array of secrets. If you shake a green Koopa it will turn red and if you shake a Lakitu, you’ll be left with only its cloud which Mario can ride. Add a mushroom to an enemy, and it’ll grow larger and place wings on an object and it will fly. The level editor also provides information detailing everything you need to know about how it operates making it easier both for players to understand a level and designers to realize their visions. Here is a game that anyone can play and anyone can create levels no matter what their level of gaming is. And it doesn’t take much time to wrap your mind around the editing tools because most of them are extremely straightforward. The well-designed interface makes learning easy and intuitive and features smart button-based shortcuts and simple controls. More importantly, Super Mario Maker isn’t limited to just making levels for a Super Mario platformer. The tools are flexible enough so that you can personalize your creations and add music, sound effects, and text. And once you are finished you can share your creations online with a passionate community of fans around the world.

Super Mario Maker isn’t just about creating levels — the game actually has two major components. There’s the creation suite, but there is also the play hub, where you can simply enjoy Mario Maker levels made by other people. There, you will find the “10 Mario Challenge,” used to serve up sample levels that ship as a part of the package. This mode gives players ten lives and challenges them to beat eight random levels made by Nintendo designers. Once you build a level, you can save it to your system and upload it to Nintendo’s servers where you can keep track of stats and feedback via notifications. The smartest move on Nintendo’s part, however, is forcing players to complete their levels before sharing them online. In other words, you can’t upload a level which is impossible, or beyond your own skills as a player to complete. Through curated lists, you can find and play other popular levels uploaded by other users. And did I mention the game’s online functionality works extremely well. Levels load in a matter of seconds and uploading your creations takes less than a minute to do. Meanwhile, the “100 Mario Challenge” allows you to play through up to 16 user-created stages with 100 lives in a mini-campaign from the maker community. You can also choose different difficulties, and the hard mode will unlock the moment you beat the normal mode. If a level is too difficult, a player can abort and swap it for another randomly selected stage. Even better, the lowest-rated levels will slowly be removed from the system, helping you dodge any terrible creations users upload online.

The only downside to Super Mario Maker is that the game restricts you to making single levels, as opposed to allowing the creation of entire worlds or your own Super Mario game. Having one level connect to the next would have been great but, unfortunately, this is not the case — which leads me to believe that this is only the beginning of a series of games that will expand on the toolkit and offer more features with each entry. Chances are, Nintendo will soon be working on a sequel for their next console.

Super Mario Maker provides an exceptional experience while offering insight into three decades of platforming brilliance

Since its launch in 2012, the Wii U has sold only 10 million units. Even the GameCube, Nintendo’s least successful console prior to Wii U, managed to sell more than 20 million units. Blame has been placed mostly on the console’s gamepad, which some people have described as nothing more than a gimmick. But if there is ever a reason for the gamepad to exist, Super Mario Maker is it. Without it, the game just wouldn’t be possible, and this makes me believe that Nintendo built the WiiU console with Super Mario Maker in mind.

To celebrate Super Mario’s 25th Anniversary, Nintendo released Super Mario Galaxy 2, a solid entry in the Super Mario series, but not very different than its predecessor. With the 30th Anniversary upon us, Nintendo tried something new and has given us a game that celebrates three decades of Mario in one accessible, powerful creation suite. Super Mario Maker is not perfect, but pretty darn close and the best way to celebrate Mario’s 30th birthday. With an active and passionate community, Super Mario Maker could very well be the last 2D Mario platformer we ever need. There will always be more levels to play thanks to the online creation community, and an endless pool of challenges to overcome. Nintendo has just handed over their play box and it might just be the best gift they could ever give their loyal fanbase. Whether creating, exploring, watching others play and create, or just playing other people’s levels, Super Mario Maker provides an exceptional experience while offering insight into three decades of platforming brilliance.

Bravo!

– Ricky D

Some people take my heart, others take my shoes, and some take me home. I write, I blog, I podcast, I edit, and I design websites. Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Goomba Stomp and the NXpress Nintendo Podcast. Former Editor-In-Chief of Sound On Sight, and host of several podcasts including the Game of Thrones and Walking Dead podcasts, as well as the Sound On Sight and Sordid Cinema shows. There is nothing I like more than basketball, travelling, and animals. You can find me online writing about anime, TV, movies, games and so much more.

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Game Reviews

‘The Touryst’ Review: Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

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There’s an acceptance of a certain rhythm when traveling alone: often an itinerary-less trip will be filled with quiet solitude and uneventful meandering; yet, when those exciting moments of interaction and discovery are inevitably stumbled upon, they tend to be of the highly memorable variety. The latest offering from Shin’en Multimedia, The Touryst, shrewdly captures this relaxing, energizing roller coaster. It’s a quirky little getaway that encourages players to explore its gorgeous voxel island delights at their own pace, letting them bask in the peaceful surroundings and doling out treasure for those curious to seek it out. The result is a soothing weekend sojourn of puzzles, platforming, and mini games under the sun that is also winds up as one of the best indies on the Switch.

There’s no doubt that atmosphere plays a big part in what makes The Touryst so successful, as the vague setup and sparse narrative casts a mysterious aura over the proceedings. Who our mustachioed vacationer is or why he agrees to find glowing blue orbs for some random old man is pretty much left to the imagination. Is the player curious about what they could see and find out there among the green palm trees, sandy beaches, monolithic temples, and sky blue waters? Then they will follow their nose regardless of the lack of any story motivation, and The Touryst has sprung its trap. The urge to see the sights and have an adventure is a must here, and so the wandering begins.

Luckily, The Touryst is filled with charming things to stumble upon around almost every corner, be that a scuba diving boat operator on a Greek isle that facilitates swimming with the fishes, a seaside dance party in need of a hi-tech energy boost, or a bustling business center complete with an arcade, art gallery, and movie theater (for those times when you just need to sit down for a while). Personality abounds, as long as friendly players aren’t shy about talking to strangers (the best way to get the most out of a trip to a new place). No matter where one’s feet take them, there are plenty of mini-stories at play thanks to the native inhabitants and fellow tourists, with these weirdos offering interactions both puzzling and profitable.

But there’s more to life than racking up coins via side quests; there’s something eerily odd buried beneath the tropical destinations of The Touryst that beckons to be uncovered by just the right explorer. Towering mounds filled with ancient devices and clever puzzles hold secrets that promise that this vacation will be one for the scrapbook. These short ‘dungeons’ are the meat of the game, providing a variety of platforming and logic challenges that range from overt to opaque; sometimes even finding the way in to these ominous structures is a puzzle in itself, which only further drives an overarching sense of discovery.

Smartly, The Touryst rarely telegraphs solutions to its tests (or in some cases, that there even is a test), and instead encourages experimentation. Inside temples, players need to determine why certain lights are glowing and others aren’t, understand how sequences work, pay attention to rumbling feedback, and decide just how to deal with once-dormant mechanical creatures that now awaken to stand in the protagonist’s way. Things can seem opaque at times, but Shin’en has managed to hit that sweet spot that keeps poking around from getting too frustrating. But just in case, there are plenty of beach chairs and cabana beds to lie down on and think. Or, just soak in some rays and enjoy the scenery.

Regardless of the difficulty players may or may not have with the crafty puzzles or surprisingly challenging mini games (good lord, surfing and those 8-bit arcade throwbacks can be tough), The Touryst is still a sight to see. Shin’en has created a buttery smooth island-hopping environment that is a pleasure to peruse. Go off the beaten path and enjoy the gorgeous sunsets, gently pixelated waves, crunching grains of sand, and flopping flora. The visuals seem so simple, yet at times can be stunning to behold, especially when spotting some of the smaller details that have been added to make these place come alive. A depth of field style entices players to see just what that blurry landmark off in distance is, and the soundtrack seamlessly shifts between relaxing and intriguingly uncanny. That developers have achieved this with what are surely the shortest load times on Nintendo’s console makes the experience all the more immersive.

Like most vacations, The Touryst is destined to be over too soon for some players, but trips like these aren’t meant to last forever. The five hours or so it takes to see all there is to see is highly satisfying throughout, and the vague hint at the end of a followup will have many Switch-owning puzzle fans looking forward to getting future time off.

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Game Reviews

‘Shovel Knight: King of Cards’ and ‘Showdown’ Review: Really Spoiling Us

It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise.

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It’s a Yacht Club Games overdose this holiday season, as the Kings of Kickstarter are back with, not just one, but two new entries in the Shovel Knight franchise. Not content with just releasing another new character’s twist on the original formula, Yacht Club has also developed their own fighting game in the Shovel Knight universe. It’s to the developer’s credit that two simultaneous releases can be of this quality, but valid questions can also be asked as to whether the original formula has gotten stale, and whether Showdown’s new concept does the series justice. Fear not, for both questions will be answered in this bumper, two-for-one review!

Shovel Knight: King of Cards

King of Cards is the latest re-tread of Shovel Knight, and this time the emperor’s new clothes are the regal duds of King Knight, who is on a quest to become the greatest player in the kingdom of the card game Joustus… without really having to beat that many people at it. After the stoically heroic Shovel Knight, the dastardly cunning Plague Knight, and the broodingly enigmatic Spectre Knight, King of Cards’ protagonist embodies an enjoyable dose of pompous entitlement. His quest isn’t all that noble, and he really can’t be bothered to do a lot of hard graft to reach his goal. Thanks to the typically witty script, King Knight shines as a loathsome oik who doesn’t pay attention to any advice he’s given, and would rather have a fight, or cheat, than actually get better at Joustus.

Shovel Knight
This a late-game bout of Joustus, which shows how complex it can get.

Joustus might not really be all that important to King Knight, but it adds an entirely new element to the traditional Shovel Kinght gameplay. Those players who are a sucker for built-in card games (myself included) will find a lot to enjoy when stepping away from all the platforming and fighting to engage in a round of Joustus. The game is played by placing cards, one at a time, onto a grid with the goal of having more of your cards placed on top of gems than your opponent.

All cards contain abilities and can be used to shove opposing cards out of the way (and off the gems), with advanced cards used to blow up, slam or recruit those of the other player. It all starts off simple enough, but can get really brain-taxing as the story progresses, and grows to be a real highlight of the game – and one of the better card-games-within-a-game I’ve played. Cheat cards can be bought to give you a leg up for trickier opponents, especially as the winner of each game gets to take one (or three if you control all gems at the end of the round) card from the loser.  

Shovel Knight
Platforming at its satisfying best. Y’know, without actually touching the platforms.

Outside of Joustus, King of Cards will feel pleasingly familiar to fans of the series. As in previous entries, the levels all share the same look and gimmicks as the original Shovel Knight, but are reshaped to adapt to the new abilities of King Knight. He has a shoulder barge attack that launches him forward, across gaps if need be, and will send him into a spin on contact with enemies or certain types of walls and blocks. This spin move acts very much in the same way as Shovel Knight’s shovel pogo attack, and allows King Knight to bounce around levels with impressive finesse. Anyone who’s played Shovel Knight before knows the drill now – try and clear every screen by chaining together as many bounce attacks as you can. It’s the law.

Shovel Knight
Familiar foes return, but the way you deal with them is the same!

It also wouldn’t be a Shovel Knight game if there weren’t a ton of unlockable moves and buffs. Amongst the best unlocks for King Knight are a Tazmanian Devil-esque tornado spin that allows him to climb walls and smash up enemies, a hammer that produces hearts with each wallop for precious HP, throwable suicide bomber mice, and the ability to stand still and have a big ol’ cry to regain HP. Something we can all relate to.

The world map returns, and is in its best guise in King of Cards. Levels are now a lot shorter than you’d expect – there’s typically only one checkpoint in the non-boss levels – but there are a lot more of them, and a large number have secret exits to find. They’re interspersed with the multiple opportunities to play Joustus, and with the seemingly random appearances of traditional Shovel Knight bosses who show up, Hammer Bros. style, on the map to block your progress. It makes for a really tight campaign that’s filled with a ton of variety.

The floor is literally lava!

It seems almost arbitrary to say, but if you like Shovel Knight and you’re not tired of the standard gameplay, there’s so much to enjoy with King of Cards. He’s probably not the most fun character to play as (for me, that’d be Spectre Knight), but his game is easily the most diverse. He’s just such an enjoyably unlikeable idiot that you’ll constantly be playing with a smile on your face, bopping along to the classic Shovel Knight chiptunes, pogoing around levels and pausing for the occasional game of cards. Who could ask for more?

Shovel Knight Showdown

Who likes Shovel Knight boss fights? Everyone does, right? How about fighting three of them at once in an amalgamation of Smash Bros. and Towerfall? It’s as chaotic as you’re imagining, and seems like a total no-brainer as a second genre for Yacht Club to transpose their blue, spade-loving hero into.

What seemed like an obviously smart move doesn’t necessarily play out in an ideal way. The one-on-one fights in Showdown are as tightly-contested and entertaining as ever, but the multi-man rumbles are absolute mayhem. There are a few different stipulations applied to fights, and these typically involve simply whittling down your opponents’ lives, or depleting their health bar to briefly kill them off and steal any gems they’ve collected from around the level, with the winner being the first to an assigned number.

Shovel Knight
I found it best to just try to escape in every multi-man level.

Standard fights are more enjoyable, as the simplicity of smacking seven shades of snot out of the competitors keeps things manageable amongst the cacophony of onscreen visual noise. The gem-collecting levels, especially with multiple opponents, are frankly a bit of a mess that I rarely found enjoyable.

Perhaps I’m just not very good at Shovel Knight boss fights, but the game felt overly difficult even on the normal setting. Playing story mode often sees your chosen character up against three opponents on the same team, and when it comes to collecting gems from around the level, they’ve got way more of the space covered and you barely get a chance to breathe with them swarming you from the word go. It’s basically an exercise in getting wailed on while you try to run away and scramble for gems, and it’s just not that fun.

If the whole game were 1v1 I’d have more fun, but it’d be a bit pointless and unsubstantial.

What does add a layer of fun to the game is the chance to play as the complete ‘Knight’ roster of Shovel Knight characters, and the best part of Showdown is learning new moves and trying to find your ‘main’. Perhaps, with more time to sit down and learn the move sets in the practice mode, the game would feel more rewarding than if you just jump in and try to slog through the chaotic story mode as I did.

With a four-player battle mode as the only other gameplay option, Showdown was clearly never meant to be anything other than a brief little curio to give fans of the series’ boss fights an overdose of what they love, but as a complete experience, I found it lacking in both modes and reasons to keep plugging away at the arcade fighter-style story mode. It turns out that the boss fights in Shovel Knight are more fun at the end of a platforming level rather than in the middle of enclosed space filled with flashing lights, random effects, environmental hazards, and three bastards all chasing you down. If you can handle all that stress, you’ll have a much better time than I did.

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Game Reviews

‘Disco Elysium’: A Thought-Provoking Mystery

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Disco Elysium Review

For the most part, the majority of games are easy to classify, but from time to time a game is released that defies conventional rules and resists simple categorization. Disco Elysium is just such a game. On the surface of it, it’s a topdown, isometric RPG of the oldest of old schools. It draws upon long-established systems, structures, and mechanics that make it comfortably familiar. However, beneath that patina of tradition lies something completely unexpected and utterly unique.

Developed by the small, independent studio ZA/UM, with a story penned by Estonian novelist, Robert Kurvitz, and a painstakingly detailed world crafted by artist Aleksander Rostov, Disco Elysium stands apart from most RPGs in that it is startlingly realistic whilst simultaneously being grimly fantastical. Set on an isolated archipelago in the wake of a failed communist revolution, the game casts players as a detective sent to solve the murder of a man found hanging in the backyard of a rundown boarding house/cafe. It’s a simple setup made all the more complex by the fact that the player character is suffering from a severe bout of alcohol and drug-induced amnesia. The mystery that needs to be solved concerns piecing together exactly who the player character is, as much as it involves reconstructing the chain of events that resulted in a brutal death.

Arriving at conclusions to both conundrums requires navigating complex webs of social and political intrigue. Along the way, players will encounter union bosses, disgruntled workers, war veterans, and all manner of extraordinary and mundane citizens just trying to go about their daily lives in a place that seems designed to thwart their ambitions at every turn. More than that though, players will be required to engage in continuous internal dialogues that involve the protagonist gradually putting themselves back together. The result is character customization in a quite literal sense of the word. Rather than the standard array of physical options that most games of this type present players with, the options are entirely psychological. Player actions and choices determine the overall structure of the internal workings of their character. Whether they decide to be a high-minded idealist trying to better themselves and the world around them in whatever way they can or opt to descend into anarchic, hedonistic self-obliteration such choices determine exactly who and what their version of the character is.

The foundation of stats and skills that are usually inert background components that all RPGs are based on is firmly in place. However, rather than being a numerical bedrock upon which all gameplay is based, Disco Elysium takes those sets of modifiers and statistics and makes them an active part of character progression and world development. As you progress through the game, skills points can be used for a variety of purposes. They can be used to upgrade core character stats, of which there a total of twenty-four covering a whole range of mental, physical, and social attributes, that govern player’s ability to immediately interact with the game world. However, they can also be used to learn or forget particular thoughts These thoughts develop depending on how players decide to approach situations and solve problems and can unlock semi-permanent bonuses and even penalties.

Disco Elysium Review

Much as in reality, the things the character is capable of are largely dependent on their frame of mind. If players opt to make a character that is brash and uncouth then they will find it difficult to subtly manipulate interactions to their benefit or arrive at unobtrusive solutions to various situations. On the other hand, if they elect to play a character that is more thoughtful and introspective, or cunning rather than crass, then they will find it difficult to emerge unscathed from more physical challenges. It’s an interpretation of character development and player progress that feels much more organic than in any other game of this sort. This is probably where Disco Elysium does the most to stand out from other such titles. Such a flexible approach to progress is hopefully something that other companies will emulate going forward, as it allows the character to develop a true personality that goes a step beyond the mathematically-oriented, incremental statistical increases that are usually the norm.

Disco Elysium Review

The ways in which player action, character interaction, and game reaction combine together is probably the closest it is possible to get to a truly curated dungeon master-guided play experience in an RPG. There is such a wide and unpredictable variety of moment-to-moment options that players can never be certain what exactly is going to happen next. This sense of improvisational unpredictability is a quintessential element of any RPG, but it is often lost in translation from tabletop rules to computer game mechanics. This pitfall is avoided thanks to the fact that the world of Disco Elysium was conceptualized as a tabletop game but doesn’t actually exist as one yet. As such the developers were able to implement systems without the expectation of adhering to pre-existing mechanics. This expectation has often been the downfall of many such games in the past, such as the much-maligned Sword Coast Legends which was lambasted for its apparent butchery of the 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. It will be interesting to see if Larian Studios can avoid similar problems with Baldur’s Gate 3.

Disco Elysium Review

As intriguing and unconventional as Disco Elysium is, and no matter how deserving it is of the accolades it won at 2019’s Game Awards, it’s hard to recommend it as something to play if you’re looking for fun. It’s relentlessly grim even when it’s trying to be funny, and its stream of consciousness style makes even the most basic of interactions a minefield of potential disturbing possibilities. With its biting combination of continental existentialist ennui, pseudo-Lovecraftian undercurrents, and socio-political critique it isn’t a game that you play for the sheer joy of it, but rather for the esoteric and unusual experience that it offers. That being said, in a market that’s full to bursting point with crowd-pleasing blockbusters and oftentimes strictly by-the-book sequels or carbon copy titles, it can be incredibly rewarding to delve into a game as intricate and nuanced as Disco Elysium.

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